MANILA (UPDATED)- The Philippine government is reconsidering its decision earlier Thursday to allow religious gatherings in areas that will shift on Friday to general community quarantine, as well the resumption of major construction activities, due to concerns raised by local officials and some lawmakers, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Thursday night.
In a live interview on TV Patrol, Roque said he has asked the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to assess the matter again when it meets Friday morning.
"Pinutakte po ako ng protesta galing po sa mga governors at mayors ng mga areas na nasa GCQ... At ang sabi nga sa'kin, parang nabalewala na ang pag-iingat sa sakit kung papayagan 'yang mga religious gatherings. Dahil talagang ang estado naman ay, hindi pupuwedeng pumasok sa simbahan at sa mosque para paghiwa-hiwalayin ang mga tao. 'Yan po ay hindi nila magagawa," Roque said.
(I received a lot of protests from governors and mayors of areas under GCQ... And they told me their preventive efforts will just go to waste if religious gatherings will be allowed, because, in reality, it's hard to be inside churches and mosques without keeping people away from each other. They can't do that.)
Some lawmakers, including Senators Sonny Angara and Juan Miguel Zubiri, who both survived the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), also shared the same concern.
"Dahil hindi po tayo pwedeng magbingi-bingihan sa protestang ito, minabuti ko po na ibalik muli itong mga bagay na ito sa IATF dahil meron pong pagpupulong ang IATF bukas, maski holiday po dahil May 1," he said.
(Because we can't disregard these protests, I decided to bring these matters back to the IATF because there will be an IATF meeting tomorrow, even if it's a holiday.)
Roque said the concerns are valid, especially the points raised by Angara about the spread of the disease in other countries due to religious gatherings.
Aware of the effectivity of the GCQ at the strike of 12 a.m. on May 1, Roque appealed to all concerned not to proceed with any religious gatherings pending the IATF's deliberation on the matter.
He called on church and mosque officials to take advantage of the suspension to plan for guidelines that will prevent COVID-19 infections in their dioceses and jurisdictions.
"Dapat siguro pag-aralan ng mga simbahan at mga mosque. Siguro po magkaroon po sila ng mga markers at saka pa'no po yung pagpasok at paglabas dahil... magkakaroon pa rin ng pagtabi-tabi," Roque said.
(Churches and mosques should study how to prevent COVID-19 infections in their areas. They may place markers and study how to plan for the entry and exit of their faithful since crowding is probable.)
As with religious gatherings, any major construction activities may also defy the policy on physical distancing, Roque said, even as it has been acknowledged that resuming "essential construction" is necessary to reinvigorate the economy.
Asked about some construction projects already recommencing in Metro Manila which is still under enhanced community quarantine through May 15, Roque said these activities already secured "special approval" from the IATF.
He surmises the approval by the IATF for the resumption of construction projects will be on a priority and case-to-case basis.
Local officials, he said, are also wary about the resumption of big construction activities for the same reason he cited.
Roque admitted he was surprised "all governors and mayors of northern Luzon" complained about being removed from the ECQ classification starting May 1, and that many other provinces wanted to be placed under ECQ.
The Luzon-wide ECQ ends Thursday, although Metro Manila, Region III (except Aurora), Region IV-A, Pangasinan, and Benguet will continue on with the measure until May 15.
Also under ECQ until mid-May are Iloilo province, Iloilo City, Cebu province, Cebu City, Bacolod City and Davao City.
All other areas in the country, meanwhile, are under GCQ.
At a press briefing on Thursday morning, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said Catholic mass and other essential gatherings will be allowed in areas that will shift to a "new normal" by Friday as long as they meet government requirements.
Essential work-related and religious gatherings may be conducted in areas that will shift to a general community quarantine as long as participants practice a strict 2-meter physical distancing, wearing of face masks or face shields, thermal scanning, and hand sanitation, he said.
Cases of coronavirus infections in the Philippines reached 8,488 on Thursday, three months since the country reported its first case of the contagious disease that first emerged in China late last year.
The cumulative total includes 1,043 recoveries and 568 fatalities.